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DOC crews train for Airway Heights prison escape

DOC crews train for Airway Heights prison escape

AIRWAY HEIGHTS, Wash. - Some heavily-armed corrections officers swarmed the Spokane Off-Road Vehicle Park earlier this week as they practiced catching a pair of escaped inmates.

Sometimes, low-risk offenders at the Airway Heights Corrections Center are allowed to work outside the fences, shoveling snow, delivering firewood, and battling wildfires. On rare occasions, an inmate tries to escape, and a drill this week tested what type of response we'd see from the Department of Corrections.

The exercise got its start when two offenders doing landscaping outside the prison kidnapped their gardener and fled in their work crew van.

"We have one offender who has escaped on foot and we have one offender who is holding the gardener hostage," said DOC employee Mike Rainville, describing the exercise.

The gardener tried to thwart the escape by deliberately crashing the van. The impact broke the offender's leg and now he's threatening to the driver with a shank.

While the prison's version of SWAT prepares to track down the inmate on foot, negotiators gear up to free the hostage.

"The first responsibility being community safety and then ultimately a win-win for us, if at all possible, to gain the trust of that person and resolve the issue, without it escalating to violence," said DOC Deputy Director Scott Russell.

The 2,300 inmates still inside the corrections center were locked down in their cells so the staff could concentrate on the escapees. Their previous phone calls and visitor logs searched for clues about where the outstanding inmate could be found.

"We're constantly working on gathering and gaining intelligence that we can use to help prepare staff for these type of situations," said Russell.

This exercise is the last part of a week-long academy that teaches DOC staff from across the state how to take command of critical incidents and resolve them.

"It really gives us the ability to respond to emergencies much more effectively, regardless of where it's at throughout the entire state, so it's critical," said Rainville.

In the end, the negotiators were able to free the hostage, which means no one got shot. The other inmate tracked down by the Special Emergency Response Team and brought right back here, where in the real world, would face a new escape charge.